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Play in Education



Abstract

Play is quite important in the education process. This paper analyzes the benefits associated with physical activities taken by children, particularly those in middle school. Though physical activity is proved to have numerous positive impacts on the brain development and cognitive performance, there are a number of factors that have resulted into a setback in the implementation of play in education. Irrespective of its benefits, its incorporation into the school curriculum is deterred by an array of challenges. This paper looks at the benefits of play in education while also highlighting the challenges to the implementation of the same.

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Introduction

Play is quite important in the education process if the development of a whole student is to be realized. Benefits associated with physical activities among children, particularly those in middle school, are immense. Physical activities often have a positive impact on brain development and cognitive performance. Therefore, it is important in enhancing the ability of students to perform in academics. Play also facilitates socialization by providing a platform through which students can reinforce positive social behavior. In addition, play in education promotes a healthy lifestyle among students since it builds their self esteem. Irrespective of its benefits, its incorporation into the school curriculum is deterred by an array of challenges. These challenges include but are not limited to the reduction of time allocated to play in school timetables, failure by teachers to ensure safely planned and structured lessons, negative attitude among students towards physical activity, and lack of support from a number of parents. Nevertheless, it is reasonable that various stakeholders work together to ensure that the overriding importance of play in education is upheld despite the said challenges.

Incorporating games and physical activity in education is very important as it plays a critical role in educating and developing students in all aspects of life. Physical activity at third grade level provides a medium through which students develop various physical skills they have. The significance of movement in educating the body as well as mind cannot be overstated. However, incorporation of play in education can be affected by several factors, some of which can hinder or assist the delivery process or students’ participation in the given activities (National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 2007). This research paper discusses the benefits and challenges of successfully incorporated elements of play in educational programs for learners in third grade.

The age of third-grade students ranges from eight to nine and corresponds to the fourth stage in Erickson’s Theory of Psychological Development. It is considered as the stage of Industry versus Inferiority where a sense of pride begins to develop in students through social interaction, following their accomplishments as well as their abilities. Those commended and encouraged by their teachers and parents at this level develop a feeling of competence as well as a strong belief in their skills. On the other hand, those who are not encouraged will doubt their ability to succeed (Cherry, 2013). Understanding Erickson’s Stages is critical for further discussion of the benefits and it challenges successful introduction of play in education.

At the fourth stage, according to Erickson’s Theory of Psychological Development, students are normally ready as well as eager to learn about physical education. In addition to testing their skills, these students often display an intense curiosity about the way things work. Most of them delight in their newly discovered physical activities and prefer active learning to passive learning process. Play in education is critical at this stage as it offers the much needed platform for students to learn and develop problem solving skills (National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 2007).

Benefits of Play in Education

Incorporation of play in education has successfully been done through the introduction of physical education in the curriculum. Boyce (n.d.) defines physical education as the study, practice and appreciation of the art as well as science of human movement. She notes that body movement is innate and quite essential to growth as well as development of humans. The Government of Western Australia Department of Sport and Recreation (2013) recommends that children should undertake moderate to vigorous exercise on a daily basis for at least 60 minutes. Play in education confers several benefits to students, both in their current and future lives.

Basically, students who engage in physical activities on a daily basis exhibit better academic performance, superior motor fitness and positive attitude towards school as compared to their counterparts who do not participate in daily physical activities. Physical education is considered as the only program in the school curriculum that can facilitate the development of motor skills among students. As the students’ movement skills improve at third grade level, they will likely move with purpose and are able to coordinate variety non locomotor and locomotor movements in order to form synchronized movements such as skip, slide, catch and spin. They can also demonstrate coordination in activities such as kick, throw and bounce and catch a ball (National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 2007).

Physical education is important among third graders as it gives them opportunities to reinforce positive social behaviors. This is due to the fact that cooperation between the students is critical for successful participation to be realized. Most students find well coordinated group activities to be fun. In fact, it is what increases their level of social interaction. Consequently, having an opportunity to participate in physical activities on a daily basis provides a unique possibility of problem solving, conflict resolution as well as self expression. In addition, well coordinated physical education boosts the capacity of students to demonstrate leadership as well as goal setting skills (National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 2007).

Physical education enhances brain development and cognitive performance in children. Learning among students takes place through a variety of modalities such as auditory, tactile and visual. Employing physical modality in teaching academic concepts nurtures the kinesthetic intelligence of students. Academic curriculum makes more meaning to most students when educators employ the three realms of learning which include the affective, cognitive and psychomotor domains. This can be explained by the fact that the cerebellum of the central nervous system is not only dedicated to motor activity but also to sensory and cognitive operations (Boyce, n.d.).

Physical activity enhances cognitive performance in a number of ways. Before the age of ten, physical activities that offer challenging motor tasks avail opportunity for the development of heavier and more dendrite rich brain. This positively influences cognitive ability. Physical activities also facilitate aerobic exercise which increases the number of capillaries particularly those serving the brain. This enhances blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain and efficient removal of carbon dioxide from the brain. Physical activity also enhances cognitive ability by reducing production of chemicals which inhibit this important performance in the body (Boyce, n.d.).

Physical competence is also essential for third graders as it builds their self esteem in addition to other indices of physiological well-being that characterize the pre-adolescent stage. Well-coordinated physical education facilitates the development of competence as well as confidence in motor skills performance more so at the pre-adolescent stage. For persistent and successful participation in physical activities, students require positive attitudes and perceptions. Appropriate levels of health related physical activity is also important for enhancing feelings, efficacy and well-being of students who persistently participate in such physical activities.

According to Sharp (n.d.), play in education is important as it reinforces stealth leaning which occurs when a teacher employs clever and disguised ways to effectively introduce students to learning objectives through nontraditional tools. Students would only think that they are merely having fun. However, the learning process and the play would be running simultaneously. There is an unexpected benefit that students receive during this unaware learning process. Sharp (n.d.) further notes that among children, learning mainly takes place through play and games that can successfully relate real world situations to traditional environments for learning. Play and gaming activities enhance enthusiasm for new curriculum among third graders and foster their ability to master content. Students also get to enjoy varied learning environments when they are given an opportunity to play instead of sitting in traditional learning conditions.

Physical activity is also associated with a healthy lifestyle. The physical benefits gained from play include increased mental health, disease prevention, decreased morbidity as well as a reduction in premature mortality. Students who are exposed to adequate physical activity exhibit low level of absenteeism due to sickness. This is due to the fact that physical education builds physical vitality among students, especially at the middle school level (Tomkinson & Olds, 2007).

Regular physical activities among children below ten limit the possibility of a student with disabilities. It also improves functional status during an individual’s middle and later adult years. Basically, regular physical activity leads to a desirable quality of life. That is, it boosts physiological health and students’ capacity to meet physical work demands (National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 2007). According to the guidelines provided by the National Association for Sports and Physical Education, physically educated person should be skillful in varied physical activities. In addition, the person should be physically fit and have knowledge about the benefits of physical activities. They should also have the capacity and urge to regularly participate in physical activities. The person should also be able to value physical activity and the contribution it makes towards a healthy lifestyle.

Lack of physical activity is associated with increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes. Moreover, regular physical activity is linked to good bone health and positive psychosocial outcomes (Tomkinson & Olds, 2007). With regards to obesity and overweight, play in education has been considered as one of the major approaches towards reducing the challenge among students. Prevalence of obesity has reached epidemic proportions among children and has been already posing challenges to educators in several learning institutions. The percentage of overweight children between the age of 6 and 11 has doubled in the past twenty years. Overweight students miss class four times as much as their counterparts with normal weight. Furthermore, they are more prone to health complications such as asthma, high blood pressure, joint problems, high cholesterol, low self esteem, depression and anxiety (University of Michigan, n.d.).

It is generally challenging to reverse the effect of obesity and overweight in the pediatric population due to the fact that those who are obese are less likely to change their habits. Consequently, prevention has been considered as the best way of dealing with this problem. Since the increase in obesity has largely been put on an increase in sedentary behavior among children, change of lifestyle can help remedy the situation. This explains why incorporating play in education curriculum has been beneficial in schools, where it has been implemented. Physical activity among students substantially increases their energy expenditure, thereby putting their body weight on check (Kennedy, Cantell, & Dewey, 2010).

Challenges Facing Play in Education

Learning institutions are well placed in encouraging health as well as physical activities among students, given that students spend much of their time in the school environment. However, barriers experienced by students, teachers as well as those imposed on them by the learning institutions have continually negatively impacted play in most schools. The barriers that face delivery of quality physical activities have largely been classified into institutional, teacher-related, and student-related barriers (Jenkinson & Benson, 2010).

Institutional barriers are those that are considered to be outside the teachers’ control. One of the most prominent institutional challenges is the crowded curriculum and reduction in time provisions in the curriculum. A number of teachers recognize the crucial role that is played by physical activities towards cognitive, physical, as well as psychological development in students and the health risks associated to low levels of exercising. Reduction in the time allotted for play in the timetable has affected many schools in balancing academics, accountability and that which is beneficial to the child’s overall performance has definitely been a big challenge to teachers (Boyce, n.d.).

Other institutional challenges facing successful incorporation of play in education include scarce resources and budget constraints. That is the absence of professional development and lack of facilities as well as insufficient equipments to facilitate the process. In most schools, the priority accorded to physical education is normally lower than other activities. The low commitment towards play can occur due to the fact that it lacks performance measures (Jenkinson & Benson, 2010).

Teacher related barriers are those that normally emanate from the teachers’ behaviors. These barriers include the inability of some teachers to provide safely planned and structured lessons. Other teachers are also expressing low levels of interest or confidence in the way of delivering lessons on physical education. Other factors include lack of training, adequate knowledge, relevant expertise, as well as qualifications to offer physical education. The presence of personal negative experiences with this type of education may also hinder teacher’s ability to offer quality physical education (Jenkinson & Benson, 2010).

Notably, challenges facing delivery of physical education to students transcend institutional and teacher related barriers. Student-related barriers have also been found to pose serious challenges towards effective delivery of physical education in third grade learning institutions. The attitude of students towards physical activities has serious implication on physical activities in learning institutions. Currently, most students prefer sedentary activities to physical ones. They would prefer to play computer games and watch television than go to the field and undertake a physically demanding activity. The changing level of students’ fitness and the importance of peer approval when the students choose activities have greatly influenced their unwillingness to participate in physical activities (Jenkinson & Benson, 2010).

In addition, students’ dislike for physical activities can also be attributed to the poor understanding they have on the intrinsic benefits of physical activities (Jenkinson & Benson, 2010). Rising cases of violence as well as indiscipline cases has also been considered as a challenge in engaging students in fruitful physical activities. Similarly, the culture instilled by parents on their children matters a lot towards successful implementation of play in education. Educators have indicated that it is often challenging to engage children who are not encouraged to play at home by their parents. Notably, most of the parents who exhibit little concern towards their children are those from low socio-economic status. This explains why in America, obesity prevalence is high among children from low income areas as compared to their counterparts from high socio-economic backgrounds (Dodd, 2011).

Socio-economic status has also been found to have a bearing on students’ attitudes towards sporting activities. Most parents of students from low walks of life prioritize food and clothing at the expense of their children’s physical activity which they consider as a secondary need. It is this attitude that affects their children’s willingness to participate in physical activities while at school (Dodd, 2011). Apart from the attitude among students from low socio-economic status, high population in low income urban area has also proved to be an impediment towards successful implementation of play in education. Most schools in low income urban areas often have a large number of students and consequently overcrowded classes. The management of such large classes has basically proved to be a major challenge to educators. They are often characterized by frequent teachers’ burnout thereby lowering the quality of physical education programs that can be offered to such classes (Boyce, n.d.).

Overcoming Barriers to Successful Incorporation of Play in Education

The teacher-related barriers, student-related barriers, as well as institutional based challenges continually act as constraints to play in education. It is becoming increasingly hard for teachers to provide quality physical education and activities to students despite the importance of play in the development of students (Jenkinson & Benson, 2010). The challenges notwithstanding, different stakeholders should work to ensure that students are given ample time to play to better their development. Sharp (n.d.) argues that if this is not done, it would be difficult to engage the current generation of students in effective learning process. She refers to this generation of students as “Net generation” which comprises those who were born after 1980. In order to learn, this generation needs a multifaceted classroom environment that is more interactive. Such environments can only be facilitated by providing for games in the curriculum.

In order to overcome the negative attitude towards play among students, Dodd (2011) recommends that students should be made aware of the benefits of physical activities. Such knowledge will enhance their approval of these activities. Moreover, teachers handling physical education should undertake special units dedicated to physical education as part of their training. This would equip the teachers with special skills. Thus, it will enable them to overcome barriers to physical education more easily. This specialization would enable them to plan and implement physical education programs accordingly (Jenkinson & Benson, 2010).

In addition, physical activity educators should be able to understand the dynamics of development that characterize third graders in order to engage them constructively in play. Pre-adolescent stage is often characterized by rapid growth and this greatly influences the students’ interests, their choices as well as activity patterns. Therefore, educators must be able to schedule for a variety of programs that would accommodate the growing and expanding needs of students at this stage (National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 2007). This would enable teachers to tap on the strong desire for peer acceptance among the students and constructively engage them in play. It would be enhanced by the fact that students at the pre-adolescent stage are generally inclined toward group tasks in order to achieve common goals (National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 2007).

Equally, in cases of large schools where facilities present within the school premises may not be enough to accommodate many students at once, teachers should plan timetable in order to use the available space more appropriately. Furthermore, teachers can deal with the inadequacy of equipments by being creative. They can improvise in their activities by making use of equipments that have a similar shape or size to the available equipments. It also possible to alleviate the lack of enough plays’ equipments by networking with neighboring schools and equipment and space exchange program (Jenkinson & Benson, 2010).

Conclusion

Play in education is generally important towards ensuring an all round development among third grade students. The benefits conferred to students at this age are numerous. Play improves social skills, mental health, emotional wellbeing, learning and productivity. It substantially reduces antisocial behaviors among many other positive impacts it has on students’ developmental process. Given the significance of play in education, stakeholders should do all that is within their reach to ensure that students are taken through this program despite the numerous challenges that have been identified as barriers to its successful implementation. However, institutions, teachers and parents should strive to play the role that concerns them to ensure that students are guaranteed physical activity in their early age. Students from low socio-economic backgrounds should not be left out either when it comes to physical activities in schools. Teachers have often pointed at the poor background as a reason behind their poor participation in physical activities; however, it is possible to overcome the said challenges and give them a taste of what their counterparts from high socio-economic backgrounds enjoy.

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